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Some thynges of ye olden tyme.

Dr. Alexander McKenzie.
The ancient records of the First Church in Cambridge are very interesting but are not a complete account of all that was done here in the early days. The church was founded in 1636 and the oldest record is very near that date. There are some items of interest which not only tell us what was done, but give us a glimpse of some of the methods of that period.

In 1638 Roger Harlakenden died. The record spells the name Harlakingdon —— they were not very particular about their spelling in those days. He left a legacy of £ 20 to the church. This appears to have been paid in 1640 by Herbert Pelham, who married the widow Harlakenden, in a young cow. For three summers the milk was given to different persons-brother Towne, brother John French, sister Manning; and in 1643 the cow was “yeelded to Elder Frost for his owne,” but her value had shrunk to 15.

This is only one sign of the care which the church had for the poor, and it illustrates, also, the simplicity of the times.

Here are a few records of disbursements:--

Given to our brother Hall toward the rearing of his house that was blown down100
For the refreshing of brother Sill in time of fayntnes sent him 4 pints of sack024
Paid to my brother Cane for goinge to Salem with a message to Mr. Philips when he was about to come to us500
Payd my brother Towne for paynes taken more than ordinary in making cleane the meetinge house in the time of its repayringe0120
Payd for 9 times going to call the church together at 8d. a time060
Given to our sister Grissell in a hard time050
Sent our sister Manning a leg of mutton011
Payd Mr. Palsgrave for physic for our sister Albone 026
Payd for a goat for goody Albone to goodman Prentiss 010
Payd to John Shepheard for a fower gallon bottell to bring sack for the sacrament030
Payd to Mrs. Danforth in her husband's absence, in silver, the sume of 25 shillings for wine, sugar and spice at the buriall of Mrs. Chauncy who deseaced the 24 of the 11.67150

In 1668 the second minister of the church, the “matchless Mitchel” died. He had succeeded to the church and the parsonage and had married the widow of his predecessor. He died in “an extreme hot season” and there is the record of the payment “to goodman Orton of Charlestown for making a carpaluing to wrap Mr. Mitchell and for doing something to his coffing that way 4s.” This wrapping was of cloth covered with tar. When the grave was opened a few years ago some remains of the shroud were found, and a quantity of tansy which had been used as a disinfectant. Thus the work of goodman Orton again saw the light.

One of the delicate matters in those days was the arranging of people and their names in the proper order. Not until 1773 were the names in the Harvard Catalogue placed in alphabetical order. The rank of the family to which the student belonged determined his place in the list. The first class starts in this way:--

Benjamin Woodbridge, A. M. Oxford 1648;

S. T. D. Oxford. [5]

George Downing, Knight 1660, Baronet 1663; Ambass. to Netherlands from Cromwell to Charles II; M. P.

Here we have the honors acquired by the sons added to those which they had inherited.

In the meeting house, when the town was established in an orderly way, a proper regard was had to the position of the families and individuals. Often the house was finished by degrees. At first benches would be put in. Then some one who wished a place of his own would procure the deed of a space on the floor, some six feet square, and on this he would erect a pit or pew. He was required to keep this in repair and also “all the glass against it.”

When there was no such private arrangement a committee assigned the seats after their own discretion and according to the rank of the family, or their age or property. This was called “dignifying” the house. There is the record in 1658, “That the elders, deacons and selectmen for the time being shall be a constant and settled power for regulating the sitting of persons in the meeting house from time to tine as need shall require.” In 1662 we come upon the work of the committee in such directions as these:--

Bro. Ri. Jackson's wife to sit there where sister Kempster was wont to sit.

Mrs. Ulpham with her mother, Ester Sparlawke, in the place where Mrs. Upham is removed from.

Joanna Winship in the place where Ester Sparhawke was wont to si

--and so on.

The people had great respect for the meeting house and its services, and gave to these their best thought. The first buildings were rude, but so were the houses of the people: Though the buildings [6] were rude, the preachers were scholars of dignity and learning. The first meeting house in Boston lad mud walls and a thatched roof, but there John Cotton preached who had come from St. Botolph's in old Boston, one of the most stately churches in England and large enough to hold five thousand people. There was a difference in the two houses, but it was the same minister, only he was larger grown by coming into this wilderness.

Probably the first meeting house here in Newtowne — for that was the original and appropriate name,--was built of logs. There was an order that no man should build his chimney of wood nor cover his house with thatch. This was for protection against fire. Afterwards there was an order that the meeting house should be repaired “with a four square roofe, and covered with shingle.”

The name “meeting” house was appropriate, for the house was used for the general gathering of the people. An early writer who visited the Colony says, “The public worship is in as fair a meeting house as they can provide, wherein, in most places, they have been at great charges.”

If we should go into the first meeting house here we should find rather a rough room, divided by a central passage and furnished with benches. The men would be on one side and the women on the other. Perhaps we should notice that some of the men had muskets, and that they sat at the end of the bench — a custom which has been kept up though the carnal weapons have disappeared. A plain desk, a stand, within a railing, was the pulpit. Afterwards, when the people were able to arrange things as they wished, the pulpit was a high, elaborate structure, with a sounding board.

The ruling elders sat below the pulpit, and the [7] deacons a little lower still, facing the congregation. The boys had a place by themselves in the gallery, with a tithing man with a long pole to keep them in order. In 1668 Thomas Fox was “ordered to look to the youth in time of public worship.”

The meeting house which was built here in 1632 had a bell, but there is a town record in 1646 of “fifty shillings paid unto Thomas Langhorne for his service to the town in beating the drum these two years past.” Perhaps the sound of the bell did not reach far enough, and the drummer was sent through the settlement to summon the people. The congregation came together as early as nine o'clock on Sunday morning, and about two in the afternoon. They came on foot or on horseback, for the most part. The town provided “a convenient horseblock at the meeting-house, and causeway to the door.”

The service in the church consisted of prayer, singing, reading and the expounding of the Scriptures. It was generally thought improper to read the Scriptures without an exposition; they called it “dumb reading.” There was also a sermon by the pastor or teacher. A minister's authority did not extend beyond his own congregation, so that when one was in another man's pulpit it was common for the ruling elders to say to him, “If this present brother hath any word of exhortation for the people at this time, in the name of God let him say on.” This “saying on” was called “prophesying.” It was thought that an hour was the proper length for the sermon, and an hour-glass stood on the pulpit to make sure of good measure; but sometimes the preacher would turn this at the end of his hour. They facetiously called this “taking another glass.” [8]

Every Sabbath afternoon there was a contribution. One of the deacons stood in his place before the people and said, “Brethren of the congregation, now there is time left for contribution; wherefore, as God hath prospered you, so freely offer.” Then the people passed up to the deacons' seat with their offerings. “The magistrates and chief gentlemen went first, then the elders, then all the congregation of men, and most of them that are not of the church, all single persons, widows, and women in absence of their husbands.” Sometimes they brought money and sometimes other things.

The singing was without accompaniment. They adhered to the words of the prophet, “I will not hear the melody of thy viols,” and they rejected the idolatrous performance with cornet and dulcimer which Nebuchadnezzar delighted in. In the first century there were seldom more than five tunes, and the hymn was read line by line and sung in instalments. In 1640 the Bay Psalm Book was printed. One verse will show the character of the poetry:--

The Lord to mee a Shepheard is,
Want therefore shall not I,
Hee in the folds of tender-grasse,
Doth cause mee down to lie;
To waters calme me gently leads
Restore my soule doth hee;
He doth in paths of righteousnes
For his name's sake lead mee.

As we look back to those times it seems as if life must have been dull and hard. It would be so to us if we were placed in it, but if we had been born into it it would not have been so. Those who had come from England felt the difference between the old world and the new; but they did not look for much comfort in the wilderness, and whatever they lacked, they had themselves and their books and their own [9] courage and faith. They had good books. Shakespeare died in 1616 and Bacon in 1626; their works were new and fresh, and there were other writers of great interest and worth. The Puritans did not spend much money on sports, but they spent money on schools, and they built a college. We commonly see their faces in repose and they look stern; but they had their glad hours when men smiled and children played. Home, love, marriage, and the joys which these terms suggest were here. The woods and streams gave the best of recreation to the boys when their tasks were finished. The girls had their own ways of amusing themselves, as ingenious as they are now.

It was not a time of devotion to small things. The men and women who left the land of their birth to make a new country had a very high intent, with much wisdom and devotion. They did the work they came to do, and it has lasted. We smile sometimes at their ways, as at other antiquities.. But we should be able to discern their bravery and patience and discretion, and to be grateful to them for their labors into which we have entered. It will be well for us and for the country if we do our work as wisely and faithfully as they did theirs. [10]


Newtowne! The fathers, centuries agone,
Thus called our Cambridge; and 'tis new to-day
In blossoms, buds and birds, and ah, has grown

To us, the aged, in another way
More sadly new! “The old familiar faces”

Of poet and philosopher and saint,
We see no more in their accustomed places,--

But memories now, with years to wax more faint.-
Yet, though they go to God, still at our side

Their ways are unforsaken. Up and down,
Of fresh young manhood, surges through a tide

To carry on the honours of the town.
To you we look, to keep it ever new
In fame of noblest deeds that men can do.

Sara Hammond Palfrey. May 22, 1895.

[11] [12]

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